Evidence of leatherworking and woodworking at Vindolanda is abundant. This bench is a superb example of a personalised workstation. Not only has Atto left his name also there is evidence of numerous punch tool marks.   

Digging up memories and making connections

What was he making and what tools was he using?  What stories could this workbench tell about conversations held around it?  Alan gives us his insight into what might have been made here.

Natasha reflects on the character of Atto, and how he sat at this table day after day carrying out his tasks.

Inspired by Atto's workbench

The following piece is written by Natasha Foxcroft and read by John Scott

Listen to...

Further information

What about Atto?

by Natasha Foxcroft

Hello, my name is Natasha, and I am here at the Wooden Underworld exhibition. The exhibition has many wonderful wooden artefacts dating back to circa 85AD found here at Vindolanda. My most favourite piece on display is the wooden desktop, inscribed with the name Atto.

What more can we learn about the desk and Atto?  The desk was discovered in 1993 by Dr Robin Birley during excavations in a context dating to 105-118 AD. The desk itself was among wooden floor pieces and it can be thought that the desk was repurposed at some point to be a part of the floorboards in a possible barrack room. Found close to the bonfire sites where many of the Vindolanda wooden tablets were discovered, the wooden desk has been well preserved within the anaerobic or oxygen free conditions of the site. The pieces were found in two parts, facing down. When put together and with a little on-site cleaning, it revealed what we see today - ATTO, in large letters. The desk then went onto a slow drying process. In some cases, this can take as long as 15 years to complete. The wood itself can change within this drying process, with some shrinkage and sustaining some warping.

From 1993, the desk had mainly been forgotten about, located in safe storage in our old lab undergoing its conservation. It wasn’t until the lab was moved and the exhibition was coming together, that our curator discovered this wonderful piece that now takes pride of place here in the wooden underworld.

So, what about Atto? There is evidence suggesting that Attos were stationed here at Vindolanda, from at least three of our writing tablets. Could one of these be the owner of the leather worker’s desk? Unfortunately, we will probably never know.  For now, please enjoy my short fictional piece of writing, inspired by the desk (listen above).